Longtime paint distributor plays to strength of partnering with customers
Kansas City, Mo.— “‘Price, quality, and service: pick any two, because you’re not going to get all three,’” said Sales Manager Kevin Bradhurst, who is familiar with the old adage. “But you pretty much get all three with us. We offer a fair price, but we have excellent support and service. If someone needs an answer for technical help, there’s not a waiting period, or ‘We need to call a different guy.’ We know that product inside and out, and we respond quickly.”
Blue Ridge Paint — which sells Axalta and AkzoNobel finishes to professionals in the automotive, aviation, and industrial segments — and its automotive-focused branch store, Global Coatings, in Lawrence, Kan., partner with their customers for long-term success, he said.
“It’s not just about selling a can of paint. It’s about helping them sell more hours, sell more jobs, or helping them select products, services, and equipment that will help them streamline their business, whether it be to reduce their SKUs, reduce their labor, or increase production.”
Although consolidation among refinish distributors is a recent trend, Co-owner Mike Salmen noted that “independent distributors are more flexible when it comes to making decisions and changes to meet market needs.” He and Co-owner Alan Wilkins have worked since 1977 and 1980, respectively, for the store that opened in 1975 as Blue Ridge Auto Supply. Even then, they observed how big-box stores often had difficulty maintaining knowledgeable staff and tailoring their inventory to local needs. The store added paint in the mid-1980s before getting out of hard parts completely a few years later, and the partners bought the store from Jack Kalinka in 1994, purchasing the Global Coatings store in 2008.
Salmen and Wilkins point to the experience of their staff of 16, with an average tenure of 15-20 years, as a big advantage over their competition, able to assist in things such as EPA 6H training and EPA SARA 313 VOC recordkeeping for manufacturers. Not all manufacturers or shops have the ability to lose the productivity of a technician for a week to send him to manufacturer training, so Bradhurst said he and account managers often train them on-site.
“We’ll train new painters to get them up to speed,” he said. “If they want to send them for certification at another date, fine, but we want to make sure they’re up and running tomorrow. We’re all hands-on guys, so we can bring something different to the table. Like Mike with aviation, he may get in there and help set up to spray an airplane. I’ll go in and help spray a locomotive.”
‘Just-in-time’ delivery keeps customer inventories accurate and minimized
The Kansas City store’s five vehicles and three in Lawrence are kept busy delivering to customers needing something as small as a technical data sheet or an order of 15 to 20 gallons (sometimes more) of mixed paint needed in only a couple hours, Salmen said, whereas his competition may have only one or two delivery vehicles.
Providing the same quick, knowledgeable service as they have to automotive has spurred growth in the aviation and industrial markets, Bradhurst said, with account managers visiting shops and manufacturers at least once a week.
“They put a lot of faith in the distributor to keep an eye on their inventory and the jobs they have in the shop, coordinating what’s coming down the pike and what they will need for those jobs,” he said.
The two stores have long sold Axalta products, but added AkzoNobel refinishes last July in part to reach customers requesting certain specific products.
The store ships aviation and industrial products to 48 states, with shipments using FedEx or truck lines going out most days, Wilkins said, noting that employees have been trained on handling and shipping hazardous materials. Employees can mix in quantities as large as five gallons, with larger quantities, such as a 55-gallon drum, available as a factory order drop-shipped to the customer. Aviation products have a particularly important shelf life that must be monitored closely to keep fresh stock in rotation, with some products offering only a one-year shelf life from the time of manufacture.
“On aviation, we have to furnish a certificate of compliance to the customer, and most of the customers want at least a 70 percent shelf life on the product, or they won't accept it. And that all has to be logged and sent to them,” Wilkins said.
Salmen said nine out of 10 of the industrial mixed colors it sends out is a color developed in-house, and the company’s color library includes 10 binders full of 4,000 custom color standard sprayouts matched to Pantone, RAL (European color standard,) or Federal specification colors.
“Take Worlds of Fun as an example,” he said. “Every one of those colors, Kevin’s developed them, and they contract people in once a year to refinish their rides. “It is spec’d for the contractor so it’s all done properly, which is a big service to them.”
Bradhurst oversees those jobs, ensuring that the jobs are done to specifications, ensuring long-term performance for the customer.